Blessed Foolishness: A Comment on Church Status

For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. — 1 Corinthians 1:22-24, NRSV

Alright, so get excited, everyone. This is a rant I have been just waiting to go on, but don’t worry. It is rooted in Scripture and a love for the faith that continues to strengthen and change me. This post was prompted by President Trump’s Christmas speech. Actually, it was prompted more by the response to said Christmas speech, piled on top of the comments I have heard over and over again about the supposed, rightful Christianity of the United States. 

First, I must issue a disclaimer. I am not attacking or denying the Christian faith of the majority of Americans dating back to our nation’s founding. I am not going to be dumping on the president. I am not going to be dumping on the United States. I am also not going to be dumping on Christianity. I am, however, going to take issue with a tendency that has plagued the Christian Church throughout history. As a matter of fact, this is a tendency that has always plagued humanity, namely the tendency to seek out power and protect however much power we manage to get our hands on. 

What do I mean by “power?” I mean social, political, military, and economic influence. I mean that which makes Christians the primary beneficiaries of policy, the chiefly expressed and practiced religion, and the religion that is adopted by the nation to suit the purposes of the nation. It is my contention that for us as Christians to seek out or possess such influence is to undermine the entire faith. 

Christianity was never supposed to be a faith of worldly power. Jesus himself addresses the lack of popularity to be expected by Christians in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The quote at the start of this post comes from a bigger section of the First Letter to the Corinthians in which Paul address the fact that Christian beliefs alone are counter to the world’s logic, much less the way they live their lives in pursuit of “nothing… except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

My point is that Christians believe God Incarnate, Jesus, the King of kings, did not come with the might of an army, the wealth of a king, or the privilege of the elite. He was a son of a carpenter, wandering from place to place, living off of the kindness of others, and spreading a message that challenged the powerful, lifted up the poor, and ended with his own crucifixion. Jesus never pursued worldly power or wealth, and he never encouraged his followers to do so. He actually warned against it multiple times, saying, “You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24).

So what is my point? After President Trump’s speech, so many extoled the virtues of our Christian country. On top of that, we have a habit of talking about our troops as if they were Christ, potentially sacrificed on the altar of freedom for our salvation. Even more, we equate being a good American with being a good Christian, and  the American values of wealth and privilege seep into our churches and teachings, causing us to mistake riches for blessing, status for righteousness.

This is not the first time. Whether in Rome, the Crusades, colonization, or modernity, any time the Church has sought or achieved worldly power, it became decadent, corrupt, and idolatrous. Forced conversions, wars for land, wars for power, slavery, and the blending of Christian and civil religion all resulted from the Church’s pursuit of that which is counter to Christ… and I worry it’s happening again.

When we as Christians become concerned with our status or endorsement by the government, when we emphasize numbers, when we seek after wealth, power, and security above all else, we start down that wide road that “leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13).

It is my prayer that you will join me in praying for the Church, that she may recover her purpose and identity. It is my prayer that you will find strength not in riches or status, but in the humble cross of Christ. Remember that the love of God is not found in material abundance or social privilege, but in the humble, daily pursuit of justice, service, and kindness for all people. If we can remember that, we  could have a bright new year ahead.

Peace be with you!

Fruit-Making and the Gospel

“Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.” — Matthew 12:33, NRSV

The Gospel is a black-and-white kind of thing, right? In some ways, yes. You are either intentionally seeking and following God or not. There are strict consequences for fitting in the “not” category. You either love your neighbor and your enemy or you don’t. There are strict consequences for those in the “don’t” category as well.

Now, many of my liberal brothers and sisters don’t like when you bring up the idea of hell or punishment or consequences, as there seems to be no grace in these things. On one level, they are right. On the other hand, consequences are naturally built into our world due to the nature of free will, so it isn’t God’s lack of grace, but our sinfulness that lands on our own heads (Psalm 7:16). In fact, as discussed in a previous post, the teachings of punishment seem to be serving a gracious purpose, and I’d like to re-emphasize that in more detail today.

Before my conservative brothers and sisters pump their fists too high for my argument against avoiding the judgment language of Scripture, it’s only fair that I throw out some challenge in the opposite direction as well. If we get too caught up with this judgment stuff, we run the risk of treating others as though we are the ones who get to judge and condemn them, as opposed to God, the only one with the information necessary to do so. Hopefully, I don’t have to remind you that this is frowned upon by our Savior (Matthew 7:1-5). When we do this, we tend to write people off, and this is dangerous for any faithful person.

Have you ever been written off? Have you ever been categorized according to the worst parts of yourself and given in to that identity? I have. I have believed the lies other people told me because they only knew me for the mistakes I had made. I have known people who lacked grace for themselves, therefore they had even less to show others. The only thing that mattered was the black-and-white of justice, even if the truth was far more complicated. Whatever I had done wrong, that’s what I was, and you can bet I have repeated this cycle with others.

We all, in some way, do this. We categorize each other. We determine who we like, who we don’t, and we define them solely based on those characteristics. If we like or love them, we overlook the flaws. If we despise them, we overlook any complicating factors that might taint our truth. We do this with ourselves. We overlook either our faults or our gifts, usually a combination of both, and we become defined by the most narrow bit of information.

For example, consider this parable from Matthew 13:24-30. This is a pretty classic “day of judgment” piece from Jesus’ teachings. Now, the traditional interpretation that I hear when going over this Scripture is that eventually, THE judgment will occur, and some people are wheat, some are weeds, and one had better hope they are wheat! What’s more, far too many people use this to justify their prejudicial categories against others. We say things like, “One day, they’ll get what they deserve,” and “Thank goodness I am not one of those.”

Looking at the text though, we spot something interesting. When the enemy plants the weeds, the “slaves of the householder” point it out, and the response of the householder is not what we might expect. The slaves ask if they should go ahead and uproot the weeds, and the householder (Jesus) responds, “No, for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest” (13:29-30). On the surface, it would seem Jesus is worried about accidentally uprooted those that are wheat with those that are weeds. The problem is, people aren’t rooted in the ground, and this is a parable.

Jesus isn’t hoping that eventually the weeds and wheat grow apart. He is hoping that there will eventually be no weeds. God’s grace is evident in the fact that He doesn’t want judgment to be premature, and He wants all of us to find our way back home. We are not doomed to either be wheat or weeds. Whether or not we are the fruit of the kingdom or not is dependent upon our willingness to seek after God and live a life that reflects the love He shows us in Christ.  

You are not doomed to be anything. I am not, either. We have to make daily decisions, and whatever we decide will determine what we are in the end. Will we make mistakes, even after resolving to bear the good fruit of the kingdom? Absolutely. It happens. The life of faith, however, is not about achieving the perfection of God revealed in Jesus. It is about pursuing it with grace for ourselves AND for each other. It is the refusal to give up on ourselves and on each other, just as God refuses to give up on us. I think that is some damn good news, and I hope you agree.

So, as the quote at the start of this post says, we are free to decide what fruit we will bear in our lives. It is never too late to change our choices, to seek help in order that we may walk a different path. We are not stuck with no way out of the darkness. There is a searchlight that is always shining, and it is my prayer that you will lift your hands, raise your voice, and begin the slow move toward it. God will be there every step of the way, and He will take care of the rest.

Peace be with you!

The Season of Giving and Why God Probably Doesn’t Like Christmas

“Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them.” — Isaiah 1:14

Now THAT is a Scripture full of holiday cheer! Okay, so between the title and Scripture, you may think this is going to be harsh, but it really isn’t. I don’t hate Christmas, and neither does God, I’m sure. There are, however, some issues for the faithful, and anybody else, when it comes to seasons, rituals, and holidays. So let’s talk. 

Now, this isn’t going to be a rant about the pagan roots of modern-day Christmas decor and traditions. Yes, it’s true. No, it isn’t a bad thing because those symbols are re-interpreted faithfully. All in all, if it bothers you, don’t get a tree. It’s not a requirement and your faith is more important. So there. Done. 

That said, the reason I picked the Scripture I did for this conversation is because I’ve gotten sick of hearing the phrase “Season of Giving” applied to Christmas time. Why? Because giving, kindness, and familial love are not to be restricted to particular times and places. This attitude actually typifies one of the worst issues facing us as Christians (and as people in general).

What issue? The issue of compartmentalized living. You know what I’m talking about. “Religious me” is private and for church time. “Work me” is for work. “School me” is for school, and so on. Similarly, we have “Holiday me,” the alter ego that goes all “best behavior” for the span of about a month or so, and I am just about sick of all of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I have been just as guilty of this as everyone else. It’s a problem we all have in this world where it is frowned upon to be utterly devoted to a way of being that doesn’t match the values of the powers that be. That’s why we have holidays, designated times for kindness and familial celebration so that, when they end, we can ease back into life as it should be lived: in pursuit of other things. 

This practice is as bad as it sounds, especially within the Christian world. When Christmas became the “Season of Giving” and our holy days/worship meetings became THE time and place to devoutly practice our faith, a major battle was lost in the war for our souls. It became much easier to have our cake and eat it. We can worship at the designated moments while dedicating the remainder of our time to getting what we want, achieving what we desire to achieve. Why is this a problem?

Nothing changes, including our hypocrisy. To us, it seems like balance. To the rest of the world, it’s the proof that what we believe is self-serving B.S. 

So what is the solution? Abandon holidays?

Don’t be dramatic

While we are on the subject, though, it’s time worship and holidays (from the Old English word meaning, “Holy Day”) were re-understood as what they were really intended to be: reminders. The practice of faith and goodness is not found in the sanctuary, worship center, or the temporary toleration of difficult people in the “spirit of Christmas.” Worship, holy days, and other such themed seasons are supposed to be reminders, means of getting in the habit so we can function like human beings were intended in the other aspects of our lives.  

Now, you’ve no doubt heard or been this person before. “I don’t celebrate commercial holidays because we should be that way all the time.” Well, we aren’t, ding-bat, that’s the problem. However, instead of treating these holy days and weekly reminders as instances in which we can learn how to habitually love, we treat them like the timed trials in which we are to get all of that distracting affection, adoration, and discipleship out of the way so that we can get back to living life in the usual self-serving, poor-ignoring, tension-avoiding way. 

This is why God says what he does in the Scripture at the start of this post from the prophet Isaiah. Our holidays and designated times/places for worshiping and following God “have become a burden to [God], [He] is weary of bearing them,” precisely because their point is being missed entirely. These seasons and holy days are designed to teach and remind us to “cease evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:16-17). These are actions that make up a lifestyle of faith, the intended lifestyle of Christians (it’s even a great way to live as a non-Christian, I might add). This is not a lifestyle that allows for our preferred, compartmentalized lifestyle. We are to be “faithful me” at work, at school, at home, in the voting booth, in the mall, yes, in our places of worship. 

As you go about the holidays, worship, and rituals of your life (whether they be Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, family dinners, new moons, weekly worship, Lent, Ramadan, etc.), remember that these are times to develop habits, not to hastily exercise all of your kindness. What habits? The habits that will allow you to live a faithful, kind, generous, just, and full life all day, every day. If we can begin to take even a tiny step in this direction, perhaps we will see a “Season of Giving” that never ends, and that Kingdom of God will move just a tad bit closer.

Peace be with you!

 


Sharing, Caring, and the Word “No”

“Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away.” — Mark 4:5-6, NRSV

An exceptionally special person in my life shared an article with me, which you can find here. The article regards empathetic people, people able to really grasp how a person is feeling and thinking. Most people have some level of empathy, and whether or not it is your primary way of dealing with others or not, this article is worth the read. Empathy, and caring for others in general, is a draining place to be in. Odds are, you know what it’s like to be a giver. It can be rewarding, powerful, and somewhat addicting. In fact, it can be tempting to make our lives all about what we put out into the world, which, while well-intended, leads to a severe loss of self.

In the world of faith, it is no different. The quote above is from the “Parable of the Sower” in Mark 4. In this parable, Jesus is addressing the various responses to the Gospel that we still find today. The article my beloved friend shared with me made me think of this parable, specifically the seed that fell on rocky ground.

Why is that?

Well this particular instance of withering is characteristic of many people who are too busy reaching out to develop any depth of soil or rootedness in their lives. Why is this important? Roots nourish the plant. They reach deep into the nutrient soil far below the surface, supplying the plant with the energy, growth, and the ability to healthily grow and be sustained. Even when the season changes and the weather turns harsh, the plant can retreat into the soil, back to the roots, until the time comes to reach out again.

In life, we are called to “bear fruit”, yes (Mark 4:20). We are called to reach out to others and care for them as we would like done for us (Luke 6:31). However, if we don’t gain depth, develop roots in our lives, and take the time to make sure we are healthy, we won’t be able to do that to the degree we want to. We will give and give and give until there is nothing left and we become defined by the uses we have for others. When times get difficult, when it becomes hard to give, our shallow sense of self will cause us to wither away, as Jesus says in Mark 4:17. Even though Jesus is referring to remaining faithful in the face of persecution, the application still works for the situations in which our failure to be nourished eventually chokes out our ability to be a nourishing presence for others.

Sure, we might be able to give, nonstop martyr-style for a good long while. However, that giving will lack the transformative depth, quality, and sustainability to truly make a difference in our lives that the lives of others. The same truth for empathy and self-giving is true with practicing faith. It doesn’t matter if you read the Bible a book a day for a year if by the end of that time, you’re sick of doing it and don’t even know how to live what you’ve read. It doesn’t matter if you go to church every week, multiple times per week if you don’t take the time to personally develop your faith in a way that complements that community time. It doesn’t matter if you go build houses in a foreign country in the name of Christ if that is the limit of spiritual development you allow for yourself, burning out in a matter of a few short years.

In all of this, the truth remains the same: in order to sustainably show grace, compassion, and love for others, we must first be able to receive the grace, compassion, and love we are offered by God, by others, and by ourselves. What does this look like?

  1. Develop sustainable spiritual habits that nourish your soul. Reading a chapter of Scripture in the morning and evening, praying two or three times a day, meeting with the Church once a week, serving regularly, going on a spiritual retreat by yourself to recharge, all of these are possible means by which you can remain spiritually rooted in God and your place in the story of His love.
  2. Make sure that you are mentally healthy. Everybody needs someone to talk to, and sometimes, dishing to your friend over cocktails just won’t do it. There is no shame in seeking out professional mental help, even if you “feel fine.” It is a place where you can literally vent about anything and everything by someone who is not going to judge you. It is also a great place to discuss your worries, your concerns, and to develop a plan that keeps you in the healthiest place imaginable so that all of your relationships and endeavors function as highly as possible. God wants you to be equipped to handle all that faithful living involves, and that includes having the mental capacity and health to know what you need in order to better serve others.
  3. Make sure you are as physically healthy as your situation allows. There are many things out of our control, but having some sort of regular physical care (whether that means gym workouts, sports, walking, regular doctor visits, sleeping 10 hours a night, or a healthy diet) is key to being able to healthily manage your own life along with the concerns of others when needed. Not everyone can exercise conventionally, I get that, but making sure that you, in some way, are taking care of your physical needs will ensure that you are strong enough to handle life.
  4. Maintain boundaries. There is absolutely no shame in saying, “No,” as the article I was discussing earlier points out. Including the concerns above, you have a life which God has given you to enjoy and maintain, which means that sometimes, you will have to know when to back out of “giving mode” so that you can soak up the nutrients you need. Whether that is time with family, friends, your counselor, your Bible, or your weight set, there is no shame or selfishness in making sure that you take time to charge your batteries. No one has the right to obliterate or transgress your boundaries, and if they can’t understand that, it’s their problem, not a problem with you.

In order to give effectively and meaningfully, we also have to be able to receive the spiritual, emotional, and physical nutrition God intends us to have. If we are going to live impactful lives, we have to have the roots to sustain us, and those don’t come except through radical self-care. Just as God loves others, God loves YOU and wants YOU to live a blessed life that blesses others. The only way to achieve that, to give as God gives, is for us to take time to soak up the grace we are offered, and to, sometimes, just say, “No.”

Peace be with you!

Trending

“Do not be upright to excess and do not make yourself unduly wise; why should you destroy yourself? Do not be wicked to excess, and do not be a fool; why die before your time? It is wise to hold on to one and not let go of the other, since the godfearing will find both.” — Ecclesiastes 7:16-18, NJB

Now that is an odd quote. Isn’t faithful life all about being as righteous as is humanly possible? Aren’t we to try to avoid intentional sin at all costs, as we are crucifying Christ again by our repeated iniquities (Hebrews 6:6)? Well, yes and no.

I have been asked a lot by students in ministry whether this or that is a sin, and if this or that will send us to hell, as if there is a list of actions that is so specific that if we so much as dip a toe in the pool of that particular wrongdoing, we go straight to the hot (cold in Dante’s Inferno) place. I always like to point to this quote from Ecclesiastes as part of my answer.

This quote can be misapplied, of course, to literally mean one should balance each good action with a negative one. Such a misinterpretation could have people seeking out wicked behaviors, which is probably (read, “definitely”) not what any of the biblical authors had in mind. So what are we looking at here?

My contention is that this is a discussion of trends. Wisdom literature (Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Wisdom of Solomon, Job,etc.) is concerned with how one lives “the good life.” This genre is concerned with what it means to truly live life, and to do so well. Wisdom literature readily admits the fallibility of people. We will all screw up sometimes. This is a fact. It is inescapable. With that being the case, how can we avoid a fiery fate?!

Okay, first of all, as addressed in a previous post, hell is not the reason to live a good life. Being overly concerned with the varying realities of hell is really no way to live a full and productive life of discipleship. Secondly, whatever side of God’s judgment you end up on certainly doesn’t depend on committing the right sins or not. It also doesn’t depend on you living the perfect life. It depends on your faithfulness to Christ and the trend of your life. No, I am not talking about how many re-tweets and likes you get. I am talking about whether the curve of your life tends more toward right actions and loving behavior in the name of Jesus, or… not. Remember, salvation, that is our renewed relationship with God by which we enter into eternal life, is found in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ evidenced in His sacrifice on the cross, that we may know the infinite love and victory of God (Romans 5:24-25). It does not depend on our perfection, but our lives should be outward expressions of our faith as often as we can do so, by the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.

So where does the Ecclesiastes text fit into this? The teacher speaking in this book of the Bible is concerned with the wasted efforts of those who place too much emphasis on their personal righteousness and wisdom, as they will eventually die, just as fools and the wicked will. It is not that righteousness and wisdom are bad, but they become unhealthy if the pursuit of them is taken to excess (7:16). Think about it. Have you ever been expected to be perfect, whether by yourself or others? It is impossible, and on top of that, because of its impossibility, it breeds resentment of ourselves, of others, even of God. Also, we waste life for fear of messing up. We avoid enjoyment because too much can lead us to sin, and while this is true, it is just as wrong to not enjoy the life which God has granted us, failing to help others do so as well.

Now, the teacher anticipates the opposite problem, which is why the very next verse explicitly forbids excessive wickedness and folly. As I said previously, we all mess up. We all take things too far, but these should be as unintentional as possible, and kept to a minimum. However, we can never fully let go of our selfish inclinations, and we really shouldn’t pretend that we can, as this is dangerous. Instead, as the third verse of our selection indicates, the best thing to do is acknowledge our faults, enjoy life, and ensure that the trend of our life is as positive as possible.

What does this look like?

Last night, I was sitting on the couch thinking about my life. I have cheated, hurt people, spoken harsh and cruel words, and participated in a large assortment of other sinful behaviors. However, I have also healed lives, brought hope to others, helped to break down barriers between communities, and served others. I realized that my life is a story within a story. My story is a part of the greater story of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ, and it was up to me to decide how the rest of my story will go. Here is what I wrote in my journal last night:

“When I meet my end, whatever and whenever that may be, it is my goal to leave behind a story that, for all its twists, turns, and steep falls, has the ability to kindle hope and inspiration.”

You see, the life of faith isn’t about the amount of mistakes you do or don’t make. The life of faith is about the transformation of your story into an upward-trending testimony to the power of God to redeem and work through you. Yes, there is plenty of negative in my past. There is plenty of pain to deal with. However, I don’t have to deny that in order to allow God to redeem my story. Instead, recognizing it and doing all I can to both enjoy life and live it in a much more righteous way for what days I have left are far more realistic and faithful options for me to pursue.

As you take stock of your life, consider what you want your story to be. Don’t walk about living in fear of mistakes, and thereby denying the beautiful things in life that God has given for you to enjoy. Also, don’t seek out enjoyment so much that you go all, “Carpe Diem” on us all and live a life of selfish indulgence. Rather, balance. Enjoy, but also help others to do so. Live a life that is as giving, compassionate, and kind as possible, and keep yourself personally nourished so that you can sustain that work. Let your life tend toward righteousness and gratefulness, and you will be just fine.

Peace be with you!

On Spiritual Healing…

“The Lord has brought forth medicinal herbs from the ground, and no one sensible will despise them… He has also given some people knowledge, so that they may draw credit from his mighty works.” — Sirach 38:4, 6, NJB

Okay, so before we discuss the topic of medical and spiritual healing for today’s faithful people, we need a brief history lesson!

“Sirach? What in the world is Sirach?”

This is the question I imagine anyone asking who hasn’t been Catholic, Anglican, or subject to any kind of seminary education. Sirach, otherwise known as Ben Sira or Ecclesiasticus, is a biblical book that you won’t find in most popular Bibles you pick up today. This is because the standard Protestant canon of the Bible only has the 66 inspired texts of the Hebrew Bible and the Greek New Testament. Only scholarly (NRSV, older ESV, RSV) or Catholic (JB, NAB, NJB, Douay-Rheims) Bibles include the Greek Old Testament texts referred to commonly as the “Apocrypha,” or, more accurately, the “Deuterocanon.”

When Alexander the Great’s empire was expanding in the 4th Century BCE, many Jews dispersed throughout that empire began to speak Greek. Makes sense, right? With that being the case, fewer and fewer people could read or understand the Hebrew Bible. This problem was addressed by scholars who translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. This Greek translation included all of the books we know today, from Genesis to Malachi, as the Old Testament, but it also included other books, like Sirach, that were written by faithful Jews and used for spiritual edification.

Protestants (in this sense, meaning most non-Catholics) have had an issue with these texts, all too often because the Catholic Church uses them. Interestingly enough, however, the King James Bible of 1611 originally contained these texts! This is because those in-between Protestantism and Catholicism (Anglicans) believed these texts were secondary to the 66 standard books, but still helpful. For more on this, check out the Articles of Religion from the Episcopal/Anglican Church as they pertain to the Holy Scriptures here.

With all that said, there are good reasons for Christians to read and use the Deuterocanon, whether they are Catholic or not. These books contain historical texts that set the tone for the world Jesus emerged in (1,2 Maccabees), along with beautiful insights into the love and nature of God (Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach). Remember, they were written by faithful Jews, just like most of the other 66 books of the Christian Bible! 

Assuming I haven’t bored you to death, let’s get to the point of this post, which is to comment on the concept of healing by spiritual means as opposed to medical means or vice versa. There are many faithful people in this world who struggle with the nature of God’s work in the world, specifically, how God heals those who are sick or afflicted. Some groups believe that all one needs to be healed is faith. Pray, pray, and pray some  more. Eventually, they reason, you will either be healed or you will not, depending on God’s will. It is hard to argue with that, considering Jesus does talk about being healed because of their faith (Mark 5:34, Luke 17:19, Matthew 8:10-13, etc.). James recommends that those who are sick “should send for the elders of the church” to pray over them because “the prayer of faith will save the sick person” (5:14-15). There are many biblical instances of people being healed by faith.

The problem, however, arises when this reliance on faith-healing becomes exclusive. This may not be a problem for the common cold, flu, headaches, and other afflictions that eventually resolve themselves. It becomes a major issue when this same exclusivity is applied to cancer, trauma, and chronic conditions that can inhibit or even end one’s life. Faith, prayer, and positive thinking have positive medical benefits much of the time. They can make us feel great, and there is real value in this, but what if you’re feeling great as some form of cancer slowly grows and grows until it’s too late? What if you’re feeling great until that blood transfusion you refused doesn’t kick in and things start going dark? What if this asthma attack is the last one, not because of successful treatment and management, but because praying isn’t opening up your airways for the “nth” time?

You see what I mean?

Faith healing is great and possible until it isn’t. This is, of course, assuming that our understanding of faith healing is limited to some televangelist smacking you, parents refusing medical care, and other literal and exclusive manifestations of narrow-minded adherence to guilt-based healthcare that either ends with God or the afflicted being blamed.

What if we re-understood being healed by faith with the Bible as our guide? Sirach can be very helpful with this. The quote that started this post comes from a discussion of medical care and faith, between which the author sees no contradiction! Follow this link to Sirach 38. We are told in verse 4 that “The Lord has brought forth medicinal herbs from the ground,” and it’s true! We know that medicine as we know it today comes from naturally occurring substances and organisms that are later processed and massed produced by medical labs and pharmaceutical companies. This is a situation that existed even in the biblical days, when doctors of the time would find ways to utilize herbs, plants, animal organs, and more for the healing of the ill. Were they always successful? No. However, they often were. Were the people who went to these doctors unfaithful? No! Rather, as the text of Sirach, and we might add Genesis, indicates, God is the creator of all life (including medicinal creations and their users), and belief in that should move us to take advantage of what God has given us. 

God has given us the medicinal herbs, and God has “also given some people knowledge, so that they may draw credit from his mighty works” (verse 6). Just as God created things to be used for healing purposes, God has gifted people with the knowledge and drive to go about the task of healing, namely medical professionals. Cool, huh?

So how do we balance our faith with medical advancements so that we continue to worship the creator rather than those things which He created? Sirach has a great bit of advice on that as well.

“My child when you are ill, do not rebel, but pray to the Lord and he will heal you. Renounce your faults, keep your hands unsoiled, and cleanse your heart from all sin. Offer incense and a memorial of fine flour, make as rich an offering as you can afford. Then let the doctor take over– the Lord created him too– do not let him leave you, for you need him.” — Sirach 38:9-12, NJB (Emphasis added)

Pretty freeing, right? Of course you should pray when you are ill! Of course you shouldn’t just run and grab a pill bottle or schedule an appointment as soon as you feel a little queasy (unless you have a condition that requires you to do so; I AM NOT A DOCTOR)! However, remember that God created this world, meaning God created medicine and doctors. There is no shame in seeking medical help for medical problems. It does not make you weak in faith or idolatrous unless you just happen to be weak in faith or idolatrous, but an ER visit is not what determines that.

If we believe in God and in God’s healing power, we shouldn’t limit the ways in which that power is made manifest. Maybe it is through prayer of the church and anointing with oil. Maybe it is through a qualified surgeon or other trained medical professional. Just as God speaks through the Bible, a pastor, a donkey, a billboard, and through a multitude of other means, so God can act in ways that promote healing in an infinite number of ways. Sometimes what we call “faith” is actually imposing limits on God, and we have to be careful of that.

Now, if you are a Christian Scientist or fundamentalist of any kind, I first want to congratulate you on your humility and patience in reading this post. Secondly, though, I want to make clear that this is not an attack on your beliefs. It is, rather, a way of expanding upon them so that you and those you love can live the fullest and most blessed life possible.

To everyone else, thank you for reading, and I hope you found this post insightful and interesting. If you have a comment, different opinion, anything at all you want to say, feel free to visit the contact page! Now, go forth with a faith that allows you to remain open to the many ways in which God extends life and light to this world, and may you share that grace with others!

Peace be with you!

“I don’t need church.”

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.” — Acts 2:44-47, NRSV

So this has been an interesting topic for me. So many people simultaneously proclaim belief in Christ, but indifference, even loathing with regard to the Church. They understandably believe that organized religion breeds division and hatred, and there are too many rules/regulations that surely Jesus wouldn’t care about. This is all aside from the politics, greed, violence, and poor pastoral care in abusive situations that formal Christian churches have been marred by throughout history. 

On the one hand, I get it. Churches are filled with many, many negative things that can distract from the experience of God they are supposed to facilitate. Churches (across the board) have poorly handled politics, sexuality, gender, science, and abuse. They have sent abused women and children back to their abuses, utilized scare tactics to maintain control, and twisted Scripture to allow for prejudice. At least, many have. Many people in the churches have. Many people have. See where I’m going? People have flaws, and these affect churches. 

It is astounding to me how quick people are to abandon “church” because they don’t like something about it while failing to realize what God’s Church truly is: a people. So if all the people who have a problem with practices or attitudes in the various individual representations of God’s Church leave, only those who are indifferent to or fed by those negative aspects remain… And nothing changes. 

Now, are you going to reform the whole Catholic Church? Unlikely. Is the United Methodist Church going to be shaken up by me? Not necessarily. However, if we just bail on gathering with other believers just because there are things we don’t like or are hurt by, we actually run the risk of enabling that pain to befall others. 

We also have this bad habit of saying, “My relationship with God is between me and God, so I don’t need church.” 

Wrong. 

That’s American individualism and privatized (ineffective?) religion getting to you. Christianity was designed for community. Every bad theological idea (think Jones, Koresh, etc.) came from some guy reading his Bible alone with no guidance or community. 

On top of that, Christian faith is supposed to be shared and mobilized to help and spread to others. It really doesn’t matter if one believes in their heart if their hands and mouth do nothing with it. It may very well be a ticket to heaven, but if that’s all one is after, I have to wonder if that’s actually what they are getting…

NOW. 

Are formal churches the only way to do this? No. They are the most convenient, but no. 

The trick is still being in community. Look at the passage at the start of this post from Acts. Believers met “day by day,” and they “broke bread… praising God and having the goodwill of all the people” (verses 46-47). It is vital to the life of faith to gather with others who share that faith for the purposes of growing in that faith. 

Further, it is beneficial to gather and participate together in practices as old as the faith itself, like Communion, singing hymns, and studying Scripture. Churches are, by and large, the best places to do this. 

Does that mean you blindly accept that body or denomination? Hell no. Never. As I said, churches are rife with problems that need to be addressed. The important thing is recognizing and living into our membership of God’s spiritual Church that transcends time and space. Let the churches be a tool to do that, but that doesn’t mean you have to love everything about them, same as everything else. 

What’s more, if we get involved and invested, we have a higher chance of influencing the Church (and the world!) for the better. 

I hated church when I perceived my call to ministry. I was sick of anti-intellectualism, false hopes, and fruitless beliefs. However, as I pursued my call and got involved, God did some cool stuff. I had young people struggling with science and religion coming to me and leaving at peace, knowing it doesn’t have to be an “either/or” scenario. I had people concerned about their sexuality leaving empowered and encouraged, feeling loved as opposed to ashamed. I had people coming to me who made terrible mistakes, expecting shame but receiving corrective grace because they had a pastor who (Lord knows) has made many, many mistakes himself. 

This isn’t a boast about me or my ministry, but it is a statement about what God can do through all of us if we decide to reclaim faith and the Church for ourselves. Things can change in beautiful and powerful ways through you and your faith. 

Is it leading or serving in missions? Is it teaching a Sunday School class? Is it chaperoning youth events? Is it helping serve Communion or greeting in worship? Is it money handling and behind the scenes leadership? 

What calls to you? Where would you like to see changes in the church? Pursue it! Don’t abandon it so others can share your pain. Don’t hold up one of those anti-church, pro-Jesus banners that make no sense! 

We can’t, as a nation, stay in the habit of simply discarding that which contains flaws. We would have nothing left. The proper response is to recognize what is important, what is good, what is pure, what is just, and to pursue and nurture those things TOGETHER. 

Just a thought. 

Peace be with you!